The more severe your psoriasis, the greater your risk for abdominal aortic aneurysms, according to a new study.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, the study adds significantly to current evidence that psoriasis is a clinically relevant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells and is characterized by patches of abnormal skin. The skin patches are typically red, itchy and scaly. The disease affects more than 3 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 5 million people, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Although the disease occurs in all age groups, it primarily affects adults and doesn’t have a cure. It appears about equally in males and females.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm, or AAA, is an enlargement of the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen. It usually causes no symptoms until it ruptures, which could prove fatal.

“Psoriasis must be considered as a systemic inflammatory disease rather than an isolated skin disease,” said Usman Khalid, M.D., lead author of the study and a Ph.D. fellow in the Department of Cardiology at Herlev and Gentofte Hospital in Denmark. “Increased awareness on heightened risk of other cardiovascular diseases, including AAA, in patients with psoriasis is also required.”

Using Danish nationwide registers, researchers identified 59,423 patients with mild psoriasis and 11,566 patients with severe psoriasis between 1997 and 2011. The patients were followed until diagnosis of AAA, death, migration or the study end date. The rates of developing AAA (per 10,000 person-years) were:

  • 3.72 for the general population
  • 7.30 for patients with mild psoriasis
  • 9.87 for patients with severe psoriasis

“That’s a 67 percent greater risk of AAA likelihood for severe psoriasis sufferers,” Khalid said. “Clinicians need to educate and assist their patients with psoriasis in lifestyle and risk factor modification to facilitate cardiovascular disease risk reduction.”

More research is needed to learn whether patients with psoriasis should undergo increased ultrasonic screening for AAA, and whether anti-inflammatory treatment of psoriasis may reduce the risk of AAA, Khalid said.